The long speak: The show of Scots as abolitionists and radical champions has disguised a long history of advantaging from bondage in the Caribbean. By Yvonne Singh
The mangrove-fringed coast of Guyana, at the north-eastern tip of South America, does not immediately bring to mind the Highlands of Scotland, in the northernmost part of Great Britain. Guyana’s mudflats and silty brown coastal water have little in common with the luxuriant light-green mountains and glens of the Highlands. If these landscapes share anything, it is their remoteness- one on the edge of a former empire burnished by the relentless equatorial sun and one on the leading edge of Europe beat mercilessly by the Atlantic winds.
But look closer and the links are there: Alness, Ankerville, Belladrum, Borlum, Cromarty, Culcairn, Dingwall, Dunrobin, Fyrish, Glastullich, Inverness, Kintail, Kintyre, Rosehall, Tain, Tarlogie, a join-the-dots list of placenames( 30 in all) south of Guyana’s capital Georgetown that suggestion of a veiled association with the Scottish Highlands some 5,000 miles away.
As a child, I knew low levels of my parents’ region Guyana. I knew that it was part of the British West Indies and the only English-speaking country in South America. I knew that my mothers, as part of the Windrush generation, had answered the call for labour in postwar Britain. My father, aged 19, travelled by ship from Trinidad in 1960 and experienced a long career with the Royal Mail; my mother arrived by airliner a couple of years later, to work as a harbour at Rushgreen hospital in Essex.
I had seen Guyana just once at nine years old( our only plane vacation as children) when my mother’s youngest sister was getting married. My recalls of that time are fragmented and rather strange: the sear hot; the inclination of beings to douse themselves with Limacol (” breeze in a bottle “); the glossy rubber leaves the size of dinner plates that were used to serve sticky balls of rice at the wed dinner; the constant nag of insects- mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, flies- magnified in length and more wicked than any I’d seen in the UK; the agony and dishonour of going sunburnt for the first time (” wha’ happ’n wid de gal face “); and finally my aunt searching demure in a white-hot lace wedding dress for the Christian wedding ceremony, then changing into a Lakshmi-like vision in a red-and-gold sari for the Hindu nuptials.
For this was and is a country that feted all beliefs- Christian, Hindu, Muslim- all features of a colonial past that involved the forced movement of people across continents to a life of bondage and indenture. Those parties later terminated and seen Guyana their dwelling, so it is known as the estate of six families, with parties of African, Indian, Chinese and European ancestry, as well as native Amerindians and a sizeable mixed-race radical, obligating up its population.
The story of why my own family came to be in the Caribbean had been blurred over season: it was something to do with the British, something to do with slavery, but that was all that was shared. Decades later the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur publicized the seminal book Coolie Woman, which brought much insight, but there have been few other conspicuous wreaks. Guyana doesn’t feature in the history books or the curriculum in Britain.
This is astonishing when you think that the British had such a role to play in that nation’s birth and how central that colony was to the United Kingdom’s industrial affluence and increment in the 19 th century. Unlike the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad, it is possible that Guyana’s unique geography( being attached to the South American mainland) has interpreted it and its history all but invisible from the collective British consciousness. Perhaps fittingly, it was the muse for Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
I am standing on a crest cluttered with dried grass and needles on the eastern bank of Loch Ness. Below me, shimmering like a expanse of burnished steel, is the fabled ocean. I watch as puffy clouds tow shadows across its face. North of where I stand is Dochfour House and Gardens, a sprawling, sandy-coloured, Italianate mansion, the ancestral residence of the Baillie family , now owned by Alexander Baillie, after the death of his father- the eccentric Lord Burton– in 2013. The late baron was a hands-on estate owner and guarded his estates fiercely up until his death- one narration has him coercing a car bonnet down on the hand of a deliver motorist “whos been” the temerity to examine his car locomotive near the enter of the property.
Today the 11,000 -acre estate can be hired for” exclusive mansion defendants” and corporate happens. Clients can spend time in the grand mansion, or experience shooting, fishing and sailing in the extensive grounds.
It’s an impressive bequest, even more so when you be understood that the Baillies of Dochfour were leading” West Indian shopkeepers” in the 1700 s and early 1800 s, actively engaged in the slave trade and the ownership of orchards in the Caribbean. Brothers Alexander and James, along with their cousin George, started trading in St Kitts and Grenada as Smith& Baillies in the 1760 s. Their substantial interests spread to include orchards in Jamaica, Nevis, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
When the soils of its neighboring islands had been employed, excursions into Guyana portrayed more fertile territory. Consequently, the Baillies established a number of orchards there, with this colony yielding substantial revenues even after the abolition of slavery.